Film review: The Bengali Detective (MFF 2011)

The Bengali Detective
A Native Voice Films, Almega Projects, Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation, Sabotage Films

PRODUCED BY Giovanna Stopponi, Annie Sundberg, Himesh Kar

SHOT BY Lisa Cazzato-Vieyra
MUSIC BY Dennis Wheatley
EDITED BY Taimur Khan, Tom Hemmings

Screened at the 2011 Milwaukee Film Festival
View the trailer

“Rhymes and Misdemeanors”

The titles at the end of the film tell us that 70% of the murders committed in Kolkata (roughly the 15th largest city in the world) go unsolved – but pecking away at that statistic is Rajesh, good-natured Kolkatan Private Detective, and his adorable retinue of middle-aged family men who’d like to make a difference. Somehow. Things are not easy at the entry-level, but that does not dispirit Rajesh – and this rather general positivity is the subject of the documentary. We see Rajesh take a few cases:

  • Tail the cheating husband: followed around, “strong suspicions,” file turned over to wife. Closed.
  • Track the counterfeit hair oil: one Eliot Ness non-bust, one real bust resulting in the long-term incarceration of an illiterate lower class dope.
  • Traintrack murders: bodies discovered, interviews, investigations, suspicions, months spent, and finally the anticlimactic impasse when Rajesh cannot persuade the police to acquire private phone records. Case unsolved.

Between these cases Rajesh spends time with his terminally ill wife, a tragic subplot, and takes dance lessons with his investigators for a television audition. Needless to say, their audition is like the dregs of American Idol applicants. I’m not quite sure what it is about this portrait that we’re supposed to find so charming, except perhaps the perseverance and idealism of this man. It’s nice that Rajesh wants to make a positive impression – but the film is largely forgettable when examined in a lineup.

Incidentally, Fox Searchlight purchased remake rights to this film. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of a documentary being “remade” before, but I am generally enthusiastic about surprises.

written by David Ashley